Hadopi Rejected by the French Constitutional Council (I)
Good news from France: the Internet and Creation Law, pushed through the legislature by Sarkozy’s UMP, was found unconstitutional on several counts by the France’s Constitutional Council on wednesday. Below I have translated what I think are the most salient sections of the first part, concerning (1) the failure to comply with the presumption of innocence (paragraph 17), (2) reversing the burden of proof ( paragraph 18), and (3) imposition of punishments without involvement of the judiciary (paragraph 16). There are also others dealing with privacy which I will return to later.
What this decision means, is that right to internet access has actually been constitutionalized by the domestic authority. As a consequence, the fate of the campaign for Amendment 138 to the Telecoms Package at European level loses some significance, as it had basically the same aim. The whole purpose of Hadopi has now been negated: a judge will have to be involved where intenet connections are to be cut off. This will slow down the wheels of the administrative machinery, which was designed for the issuance of tens of thousands of warnings on a quasi-automated basis.
Christine Albanel, the Minister in charge of Hadopi has promised to amend the law to return it to constitutionality and has pledged that the first warnings to users will begin by the autumn. But we’ll see about that. This may be just the first sand in the motor of a tricky and unpopular process.
Meanwhile the collective “Pour le Cinema” welcomed the decision, and reaffirmed their commitment as part of the platform “Création Public Internet” (together with la Quadrature du Net, UFC QueChoisir, SAMUP and French branch of the Internet society), to organise a series of public hearings on digitalization and creation in the autumn, with the goal of devising solutions to enable cultural production without reliance upon repressive mechanisms against the public.
Decision 2009-580 DC, 10 June 2009
12.Taking into account the terms of article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens of 1789: “The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law”; that in the current state of communications technology, and with due regard to the generalized development of online communications services, as well as the importance of these services for participation in democratic life and the expression of ideas and opinions, this right implies the freedom to access such services:
13. Taking into account that property is amongst the human rights enshrined by articles 2 and 17 of the Declaration of 1789; that the aims and conditions for the exercise of the right to property have seen an evolution since 1789 characterized by an extension of their field of application to new domains; that amongst the latter appears the right, for the holders of copyright and neighboring rights, to enjoy their intellectual property rights and to protect them in a framework defined by the law and by France’s international commitments; that the fight against methods of infringement which are developing on the internet corresponds to the objective of safeguarding intellectual property;
16. Taking into account that the power to sanction enacted by the clauses under challenge empowers the commission for the protection of rights, which has no jurisdiction, to limit or prevent internet access to subscribers as well as other persons who may benefit from it: that the competence granted to this authority is not limited to a particular category of people but rather extends to the whole population: that its powers could lead to restrictions on the right to express oneself and communicate freely, notably from their own home; that in such circumstances, having regard to the nature of the freedom guaranteed by article 11 of the Declaration of 1789, the legislator could not, irrespective of the guarantees surrounding the pronouncement of punishments, grant such powers to an administrative authority with the purpose of protecting the rightsholders of copyright and neighboring rights;
17. Taking into account, moreover, that by virtue of article 9 of the Declaration of 1789, all men are presumed innocent until found guilty; that consequently the legislature cannot in principle institute a presumption of guilt; that nonetheless, in exceptional cases, such presumptions can be created, notably for petty offenses (matière contraventionnelle), so long as they are not conclusive in nature, that the rights of the defense are observed, and the facts reasonably infer the probability of liability
18. Taking into account, in this particular case, that it follows from the clauses under review that carrying out an act of infringement from the internet subscriber’s address constitutes, according to the second paragraph of article L.331-21, “the materiality of the failures defined in article L. 336-3 “; that only the holder of an internet access subscription can be the target of the punishment put in place by the clause under review; that in order to be exonerated, he must, by virtue of article L. 331-38, produce proof of such a nature as to establish that the injury to copyright or neighboring rights resulted from fraud on the part of a third party; that by thus inverting the burden of proof, article 331-38 institutes, in breach of the requirements of article 9 of the Declaration of 1789, a presumption of guilt against the holder of internet access, enabling the imposition of punsihemnets both privative and in restriction of rights against him;
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